Does your water heater go unnoticed? In an ideal situation, when it’s functioning well, that’s what happens. Unlike our stoves and washing machines, we don’t need to physically view and operate the hot water heater to experience its benefits.
Although hot water is an essential part of our year-round home comfort, we have little reason to interact with the heater other than to reduce the temperature if it’s set too high. Unfortunately, this vital device we often take for granted becomes our primary focus the moment it stops working.
The 5 Main Types of Water Heaters
To choose the right water heater for you, you need to understand the benefits of the different types of water heaters. There are five types of water heaters and they all have different perks:
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- Conventional Storage Water Heaters
- Tankless or Demand-Type Water Heaters
- Heat Pump Water Heaters
- Solar Water Heaters, and Tankless Coil
- Indirect Water Heaters
How Do I Choose a New Water Heater?
No one enjoys the surprise of an ice-cold shower in the morning. When a water heater malfunctions, many homeowners want to solve the problem quickly and affordably. Selecting the right water heater for your home requires just as much research and knowledge as you would collect when making any other large home investment. Here’s more information on each of the five types of water heaters:
- Conventional Storage Water Heaters: You’ve probably seen a single-family storage water heater before. In fact, they are the most popular home water heating systems. Holding between 20 and 80 gallons, they release hot water from the top of the tank and replace it with cold water at the bottom. Though these heaters allow you to have a reservoir of hot water available, energy can be wasted through standby heat loss even when the unit isn’t running.
- Tankless or Demand-Type Water Heaters: These instantaneous water heaters provide hot water on an as-needed basis. As cold water enters the unit, it is immediately heated by a gas burner or electric element. Since there isn’t a tank with stagnant preheated water, standby heat loss is not an issue. However, a tankless hot water heater has a limited output of 2 to 5 gallons per minute, which means it can reach its efficiency limit if multiple appliances require hot water simultaneously.
- Heat Pump Water Heaters: Though heat pumps are often used to heat and cool the home, they can also be used as a water heating system. Instead of generating heat directly, these heaters use electricity to move heat from place to place. Air-source heat pump water heaters will take in the heat from the air and move it to a tank at a higher temperature. Geothermal heat pumps work similarly and can be fitted with a desuperheater to create a heat pump system.
- Solar Water Heaters: Solar domestic hot water systems use solar panels to heat water delivered to a storage tank. There are active and passive solar heating systems. Active systems either circulate water through collectors directly into the home or circulate non-freezing heat-transfer fluid through the collectors, which then heats water and delivers it to the home. Passive systems either preheat water in batch systems or collect and store warmer water at the top of the tank while colder water sinks to the bottom.
- Tankless Coil and Indirect Water Heaters: Tankless coil heaters warm water through a coil or heat exchange. These systems are more efficient in colder climates. Indirect water heaters use a furnace or boiler to circulate heated fluid through the heat exchanger. These heaters can store hot water, thus reducing energy costs. Both heaters are integrated into combination water and space heating systems, which can be installed new or retrofitted to an existing water heater.
What Types of Fuel Do Water Heaters Use?
Each of these water heater tanks may run on one or more types of fuel sources:
- Electricity: Water heaters powered by electricity are considered safer and generally more efficient than most other fuel sources.
- Fuel Oil: Oil-fired heaters have high recovery rates and low operating costs.
- Geothermal Energy: This renewable energy source uses natural heat that radiates from the center of the Earth. Geothermal heating can be integrated into hot water systems via ground-source heat pumps.
- Natural Gas: Although natural gas may cost more initially, an electric heating system may utilize more energy than a gas water heater.
- Propane: Compared to electric water heaters, propane-fueled heaters can recover faster. The cost of propane is also comparable, and at times favorable, to electricity.
- Solar Energy: The three types of collectors used to harvest solar energy are flat-plate collectors, batch systems and evacuated-tube solar collectors. Because this fuel source can be limited by weather conditions, it’s recommended you utilize a backup fuel source too.
The differences in fuel will directly impact the cost of operating the unit and its propensity for energy efficiency. Before selecting a type of water heater, identify your household’s specific hot water needs.
Common Water Heater Questions Asked and Answered
Whether your current unit has stopped working or you’re interested in replacing your old heater, there are a few questions you may need to ask before you decide on a new hot water heater.
Why Should I Replace My Old Water Heater?
No one wants to spend money on new home appliances unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even though your old water heater may still be in working condition, there may be a few indicators your unit has the potential to malfunction. Water heaters generally perform well for at least a decade, but older units may show their age:
- Rusty water may mean that the heater is rusting from the inside.
- Leaks can be a sign of fractures in the tank.
- Sediment buildup and corrosive air can also cause damage.
How serious could one of these problems be? They can cause a water heater to explode. In fact, this event is a common source of residential water damage and can cost you thousands of dollars. Instead of spending your hard-earned money on disaster repair, invest that amount in a new water heater that is less likely to cause damage to your home.
Other dangers can be present without any warning signs. Your water heater can release carbon monoxide fumes when the flue becomes misaligned or separated. This odorless and colorless gas sends thousands of people to the hospital every year and even results in hospitalizations for hundreds of Americans. If you do not have a carbon monoxide detector where your water heater rests, you may not be aware of a fume leak until it’s too late.
Perhaps your water heater isn’t displaying signs of breaking down — it still may be time for you to consider a replacement. Eventually, an old heater will reach the end of its lifecycle and will need to be replaced. Proactively replacing it may save you from the consequences of a failed water heater.
Additionally, if you have a water heater that is too small to accommodate your family’s needs, the overuse could also lead to a breakdown. Replacing it with an appropriately sized heating system may prevent these failures.
Should I Install a New Water Heater Unit Myself?
Purchasing a new hot water heater can put a strain on your budget. It’s understandable that a homeowner may want to consider installing the heating system themselves to minimize expenses. However, water heater installation should be left to professionals for these reasons:
- Licensed technicians know which permits are required when completing installations involving plumbing.
- Professionals also know all safety compliance codes, state laws and regulations that need to be followed.
If you’re unfamiliar with what fuel source your water heater uses, you may purchase a unit that doesn’t accommodate your needs. Professionals will know which type of heater your home requires and which brand will best cater to your lifestyle. They will also be aware of your drainage needs, as improper drainage or hot water heater water supply can cause damage. Self-installation can increase the likelihood of mistakes, which may cost you more money and leave you without hot water for an extended period of time.
Do Water Heaters Require Maintenance?
Not unlike other appliances in your home, your hot water heater needs proper maintenance. Flushing the water heater once a year will clear out the sediment that accumulates at the bottom of the tank. Though you can accomplish this alone, there are risks when too much sediment has built up. A professional can inspect the tank and determine if you need to flush it.
Adding insulation to the heater can help to reduce energy costs and heat loss. Replacing old anode rods can also prevent corrosion inside of the tank. Testing the temperature-pressure relief valve annually and adjusting the temperature can also help decrease energy expenses and prolong the life of your water heater. For the most accurate and safest maintenance advice, consult a professional and allow them to provide the best care for your unique unit.
Are All Water Heaters Energy Efficient?
As the second-highest source of energy usage in the home, various brands of water heaters are manufactured to provide increased energy efficiency. Energy Star-certified models can lower energy costs while still providing high performance.
Although your water heater may be energy efficient, the frequency and ways in which you use your hot water can impact the amount of actual energy used. Engaging in energy-saving practices, such as using cold water for washing clothes, can increase the efficiency of any model.
What Are the Differences Between a Tank and Tankless Water Heaters?
Tank and tankless heating systems have many benefits and drawbacks. Though factors like tank size, usage and performance can make either an ideal fit for particular households, the largest differences between the two systems involve the comparison between investment costs and money saved:
- Efficiency: Conventional tank heaters are constantly heating and reheating water, whether or not you’re using it, which continually wastes energy. Tankless heaters are 30 percent more efficient than tanks because they only heat water on demand. This increase in efficiency involves a higher initial cost for the unit.
- Installation: Traditional water heaters are easier to install than tankless heaters. Depending on your home, you may need to run a new gas line for a gas-powered unit or upgrade your electrical system for an electric unit. The benefit to tankless, however, is that the units are smaller and can be installed on both interior and exterior walls.
- Drawbacks of tanks: Constant standby loss means you’ll continue to expend energy having hot water ready, and if you have a small tank, still not be guaranteed to have enough heated water available during peak-hour demand.
- Drawbacks of tankless: While they will save you money in energy costs, the investment required to install a tankless system is more costly so you’ll want to get estimates on your savings.
How Do I Determine What Size Hot Water Heater I Need?
The number of bedrooms and bathrooms in your home will impact the amount of water used. The total water consumption of your home can increase for each additional bathroom.
For instance, a small apartment with two bedrooms and a single bathroom may use an estimated six gallons per minute. That amount can increase to ten gallons with the addition of a second bathroom. Midsize homes, like a 3/2, may use twelve gallons while a large home with six bedrooms and three bathrooms may use eighteen.
How long you shower for also contributes to what size water heater you choose. The best hot water heater for showers is one that can handle a continuous stream of hot water, has easy to adjust temperatures, and has an endless hot water supply.
Family size is another significant factor to consider when choosing a new water heater. Your unit can only produce so much hot water at any given time. You can quickly run out of your hot water supply if everyone in your household takes hot showers within a small time frame. Even homes with a small number of occupants can deplete their hot water reserve if the washing machine, dishwasher or showers increase the demand within a short time.
Average Hot Water Usage
How much hot water do you think your household uses on a daily basis? Between the dishwasher, washing machine, toilets, sinks and showers, hot water can add up to 100 gallons per day for each person in the home. Although the age of the occupants of the home does greatly influence hot water usage, here’s the average amount of hot water used per day:
- Tub water: 10-15 gallons.
- Showers less than 5 minutes: 8-12 gallons, with an additional 5-7 gallons used when shampooing hair.
- Dishwashing: Automatic washers average 11-16 gallons, while handwashing is estimated at 9-14 gallons.
- Washing machines: 25-35 gallons per cycle.
- Home cleaning: 3-8 gallons.
- Meal preparation: 5 gallons.
Or, in tankless units, these estimates are shown as flow rates displayed by gallons per minute:
- Bathroom faucet: 0.5-1.5 GPM
- Kitchen faucet: 3-7 GPM
- Shower: 1-2 GPM
- Dishwasher: 1-2.5 GPM
- Washing Machine: 1.5-3 GPM
How to Calculate Your Average Hot Water Usage
For a more accurate estimation, you can calculate the peak hour demand of your individual household. Your peak hour demand can be determined by dividing your peak hour water demand by your average daily demand. There are two ways you can calculate this.
First, determine your water heater’s First Hour Rating, which is the total amount of gallons the tank can produce within one hour. Total the number of people in your home, including those who visit frequently or live there part-time, then multiply by twelve.
Alternatively, you can determine the peak hour demand by using the average hot water approximations above. Estimate what time of the day those in your household collectively use the most hot water within an hour. Next, multiply one of the gallon estimations above by the number of times the water was used in an hour. For instance, if four people in your home took showers of varying lengths within that hour, multiply ten times four. This equals 40 gallons used in that hour.
Perform this calculation for any other hot water usage in your home during that hour and add them all up. If you run the dishwasher and washing machine during the hour your family takes showers, multiply those gallon estimates by one. This will give you your home’s peak hour demand. Using our example, four showers totaling 40 gallons plus 13 gallons for the dishwasher and 30 for the washing machine totals your peak hour demand to 83.
Tips for Managing Hot Water Usage
The size, First Hour Rating and type of water heating system you have all influence energy efficiency and the amount of hot water you’ll have available. Regardless of the system, there are responsible habits and practices your family can adopt to manage your hot water usage, such as:
- Use less hot water. You can easily reduce the hot water you waste by limiting use. Taking shorter or cooler showers, washing full loads of laundry with cold water and refraining from pre-washing dishes will lower the amount of water used.
- Limit your peak hour usage. Making small schedule changes to accommodate your lifestyle can ensure you have the most hot water available when you need it. For instance, running the dishwasher overnight will give your tank time to refill for your morning shower.
- Lower the temperature of the heater. Setting it to a temperature of 120°-130°F can lower energy costs.
- Prevent water waste when you’re out of town. If you leave your home unattended for an extended period of time, consider moving the water heater to its lowest setting or activate a vacation mode.
- Install low-flow fixtures on your faucets. For a low cost, you can purchase high—quality low—flow fixtures that can deliver water savings of 25 to 60 percent.
- Install a timer. Timers can be set to turn off electric water heaters at night or during times you normally don’t need hot water.
Responsibly limiting your hot water usage is an excellent way to ensure you always have hot water when you need it while lowering your energy and utility costs. Plus, water conservation is a great way to help the environment and lower your water footprint.
What Size Hot Water Heater Do I Need?
Now that you know how much water your household uses and what your peak hour demand is, it’s easier to determine which size water heater is best for your lifestyle. For water heater tanks, use these estimates:
- Single or two-person households: 23-36 gallon tank
- 2-3 occupants: 36-46 gallon tank
- 3-4 occupants: 46-56 gallon tank
- 5-6 occupants: 56-80 gallon tank
- 6-7 occupants: 80-100 gallon tank
- 7 or more occupants: 100+ gallon tank
For tankless heaters, usage is determined by your home’s required temperature rise and the GPM of hot water you require.
With the typical hot water temperature for home averaging 120°F, you’ll need to bump up the incoming water temperature by 70°-75°F. To determine total flow rate, add together the gallons per minute required to run your appliances simultaneously. For instance, one shower at 2 GPM occurring while the dishwasher operates at 2.5 GPM requires 4.5 GPM in total.
Why does having the right size matter? In both cases, having a water heating system that cannot support your flow rate or peak hour demand will cause you to run out of hot water quickly. Similarly, if you have a water heater the right size for a family of four but you only require a tank that can maintain enough hot water for two people, you’ll waste energy as the tank strives to keep nearly twice as much water as you need heated.
What’s the Best Water Heater for Your Home?
All water heating systems have features that can benefit your home. The traditional hot water tank is reliable and easy to install, but a tankless unit requires less energy.
Solar water heaters are environmentally conscious solutions that can increase your resale value. For those who don’t live in a climate ideal for solar power, indirect water heaters give the optimal hot water output and highest energy performance. Heat pump water heaters offer the lowest operating costs compared to all other heating systems.
Ultimately, the right water heater for your home is going to be the one that aligns with your needs. The best water heating system will be sized appropriately to provide you and your family with as much hot water as you need at your peak demand times. The initial investment and ownership costs will fall within your budget and help you decrease your energy consumption. The experts at Home Climates will use their knowledge to help you find the best size hot water heater for your family.
Find Expert Plumbing Services From Home Climates
Home Climates focuses on two priorities — quality and fair prices. We pride ourselves on being the only team in Central Pennsylvania that has the right mix of experience and expertise needed to deliver the best results for our customers.
Homeowners throughout the Lancaster, York and Harrisburg areas have trusted Home Climates heating, cooling and plumbing services to maintain their home’s comfort around the clock. We provide our customers with the highest-quality project completion available and offer financing options to accommodate every budget.
We know how important your water heater is and want to help you properly maintain your unit so it will last for years. Our friendly technicians can perform maintenance and repairs on your existing heater to ensure it is safe, reliable and able to meet your needs. When the time comes to replace your water heater, we’ll get to know your unique hot water requirements and help you select a new hot water heater that can fulfill your usage demands.
Not only can we install your new unit, you can also count on us to periodically service it to help you avoid costly breakdowns and safety issues. In the event of an emergency, call us 24/7 year-round to schedule a service.
The hot water heater is one of the most important home appliances. Let us help you make a responsible investment that will benefit your home for years. Call Home Climates today and let us fit you with the right water heater.